Driving in the car with my boys, we were listening to a book on CD. It was a series of short, historical fiction plays. One of the monologues was about a Medieval girl whose “sister” was a sheep; after this girl’s mother died in childbirth, the girl was raised on milk from a sheep—the same sheep who gave birth to the “sister” of the girl.
In a quite moving scene from the play, the girl’s sister-sheep is dying. An older man tells the girl, “I can see that she’s going to die; for she doesn’t have any fight left in her.” Then the girl adds, “But sheep don’t fight. That’s why they need a shepherd.”
In turn, the older man tells the girl, “Then the only thing that you can do, is sing to the sheep. I don’t know why, but for some reason it works.”
So the girl lies with the sheep all night and sings to it. Hour after hour, she sings Christian hymns to her dying sister-sheep. By dawn, the sheep has recovered. The girl’s song “put the fight” back into the sheep.
“Sheep don’t fight. That’s why they need a shepherd.” I found these pithy lines from a children’s play to be amazingly profound. In fact, I cannot get away from them. I knew that sheep were dumb animals, for instance, who needed guided, fed, and protected. But I did not realize that they did not fight for themselves. Sheep are not aggressive, unlike goats.
The Bible loves to refer to God as the shepherd and to humans as his sheep. I know what you’re thinking: humans fight all of the time. Right. So how does this make any sense? It makes sense in certain kinds of life circumstances: God is most like a shepherd when we are most like sheep.
When we are fighting for ourselves, clawing tooth and nail to get our way, then, you’re right, we are not behaving like sheep; therefore, we do not experience God-As-Shepherd as much as we could. On the other hand, when we are exhausted, broken, and have nothing left to give—when we most resemble sheep—God strides forth as our Shepherd, ready to go to the mat on our behalf.
I cannot help but return to the story in order to consider the girl lying with the sheep all night long and singing to it. In a most profound sense, that is how she was fighting for the sheep. Her song put strength back into this dying life.
Then we go to Scripture, only to find a verse like Zephaniah 3:17, which says:
The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.
When we are battle-less and limp and in the corner, God, our Mighty Warrior, lifts up his voice, and sings against our enemies. His song is our strength and his mouth is our power, as his words send darkness crashing to the ropes. His light is our life and it drives away those who contend with his sheep.
May you hear the song of your Shepherd, singing to you all night, whatever your night may be.
© 2010 by Samuel Kee